Image credit: Jamie McCaffrey under creative common license

It may be hard to remember in a world with Hulu, Netflix, and Apple TV  Apple TV+, but back in the early 2000s one of the coolest new technologies was this thing called the digital video recorder (DVR).

Better known by the brand name TiVo (“Hey, did you TiVo Sopranos last night?”), these “magic” boxes completely changed how we watch TV. Instead of being at the mercy of some broadcast or cable network’s schedule, you could watch a show when it was convenient for you, pause it to go to the bathroom or rewind to see an amazing scene over again.

While the cable and satellite TV companies initially resisted DVR technology, they eventually realized this revolutionary technology wasn’t going away, and today practically everyone with pay TV has show recording built into their set-top box. In other words, what started as an amazing new product category – the DVR – eventually just became another feature of a more established product category (the pay-TV set-top box).

Integrating what was once a standalone product into a multi-feature device is called digital convergence, and it’s long been common in the world of technology. Now, as food and cooking become more digital, we’ll likely see a lot more of it in our kitchens.

Take sous vide, a cooking technology with many similarities to the DVR circa 2004:

  • Once people try it, they have a hard time going back to a world without it
  • For consumers, it’s early on in the technology’s adoption cycle.
  • Most consumers who do it use specialized equipment (sous vide immersion circulators).

Perhaps most importantly, it’s something that could easily become a feature on a more general purpose appliance. In fact, it already is: The new Thermomix TM6 has sous vide as a feature, and new Instant Pot-like multicookers are feature-izing sous vide with a sous vide button, making it one of the 10 or 12 functions on a multifunction device. And Electrolux, which has offered sous vide in their high-end combi-ovens for a few years, introduced a smart oven with integrated sous vide last year.

Of course, all this begs the question: will standalone sous vide immersion circulators eventually go away? Probably. It may take a while, but there’s a high chance that a decade from now most people will sous vide using a countertop multicooker or built-in oven rather than a standalone circulator.

But this trend is not just about sous vide; slow-motion digital convergence has been quietly underway for the past few years in the kitchen. It’s what brought us the reinvention of the pressure cooker in the Instant Pot, new multifunction appliances like those announced by Whirlpool at CES and even some new crazy cooking robots. It’s also why beer brewing appliances are starting to make coffee and smart ovens can add new features in software like a routine for cooking plant-based meat.

So does digital cooking convergence mean everything in the kitchen will eventually become a Swiss Army knife with 10 built-in features? No. Tools are still tools, and there’s great staying power for simplicity. A great chef’s knife will always be a great chef’s knife.

But those for products or features that require specialized equipment today that could easily be integrated into another appliance, there’s a good chance it will in the long term. And like the DVR, it’s that kind of integration that eventually brings new features to a wider audience and give them permanent staying power.

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